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empty world

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[October, 1993]

 

            Richie Tozier is seventeen-years-old when he wakes up to an empty world.

            It takes a long time for him to realize that anything is different. His alarm still goes off in the morning, just as it always does, and with his movements groggy and slow, he takes his time climbing out of bed. He doesn’t bother grabbing his glasses just yet, opting to squint through the low light in his room and making his way to the bathroom across the hall; he’s made this journey enough times that he could do it with his eyes closed, after all. Within the restroom, he goes through his usual wake-up routine, emptying his bladder and brushing his teeth, but before he flees back to his room to finish getting ready, he grabs two aspirin to ease the odd headache that’s currently throbbing behind his eyes and in his skull. Tossing the pills in his mouth and swallowing them dry, he ambles his way back across the hall, rubbing tiredly at his eyes as he does so, releasing a loud yawn that echoes in the silence of his home. He’s used to it being quiet during this time, seeing as both his parents leave for work at five in the morning and he doesn’t get up until six-thirty, but it never fails to feel eerie, and today is no exception to that.

            The first sign that something is off happens when Richie is making his way out of his house, clad in plain jeans and a bright orange sweater meant to combat the early-winter chill in the air, the same one that Mike and Eddie have both told him hurts their eyes to look at. His folks have yet to get him a car despite him having his license. They claim to be saving up for one that they’ll likely gift to him at Christmas, but until then, he still has to walk, which he’s never really minded much. Back in middle school, he would meet up with Bill on the corner of Jackson and Witcham and ride double on Silver the rest of the way, but after the Denbrough’s moved away their freshman year, that tradition came to an end. For awhile, Stan took Bill’s place in meeting up with Richie every morning, but then the Uris’s moved, too – the same month as the Hanscom’s did, actually. That, paired with the fact that Beverly moved in with her aunt right after the summer of ’89, leaves only three losers left in Derry, and since Mike has been homeschooled all his life, Eddie quickly agreed to becoming Richie’s walking buddy in the morning.

            On this day, however, when Richie makes his way to the corner of Jackson and Witcham and comes to a stop under the road signs to look around, there is no Eddie in sight. In fact, there is no anyone in sight, the street completely and utterly bare of cars and people alike. It’s unusual, that’s for sure, and it sends an uncomfortable chill down Richie’s spine, but he chooses not to think too much of it, instead just rocking back and forth on his feet and waiting for Eddie to arrive. It wouldn’t be the first time that Eddie’s been a little late, whether it be because of his mother or because he slept in a bit. As the clock ticks on, though, ten minutes passing without Eddie’s arrival, Richie finds himself whistling under his breath to try and ward off the uneasy feeling. There’s nothing to feel so wary about, he knows – Eddie’s mom probably just heard him cough and put him in lockdown or something. It’s happened before, it’s completely plausible that that’s what’s happening here. If that’s the case, then Richie can just stop by the Kaspbrak residence later and pay Eddie a quick visit, just to make sure he’s doing alright and provide him some company, as he always does when Eddie is locked away, whether he’s actually sick or not.

            If he’s lucky, Eddie’s just fine and the two of them can sneak away to go visit Mike for a few hours. It’s been over a week since they saw Mike last, anyway. Poor Hanlon must be getting pretty lonely over on the farm without some quality Loser time. At least, Richie assumes so. He knows he would be going crazy without seeing any of his friends for so long.

            Deciding not to wait any longer, knowing that if Eddie isn’t here now then he most likely won’t be coming at all, Richie makes his way down the sidewalk, stuffing his hands in the front pockets of his jeans and shuffling across the street, not bothering to look both ways for cars as he goes. He hasn’t seen one thus far today, and he has a feeling that won’t be changing any time soon. For the most part, he keeps his head angled towards the ground, his faint whistling becoming a half-hearted hum in the back of his throat, and he doesn’t look up until he reaches the school, but when he does, he freezes.

            The campus is empty.

            Usually, when Richie arrives, there’s students bustling everywhere, some mingling outside for as long as they can get away with whilst others hurry through the doors to get to their lockers before they run out of time. Now, however, there’s not a single soul in sight, though it looks like there definitely should be – the usual number of cars are in the parking lot, some of which have doors that are wide open, whilst others are still running, keys in the ignitions and engines rumbling quietly. Timidly, he moves forward, making his way up the steps with somewhat shaky legs, trying and failing to come up with an explanation for this strange phenomenon. He keeps looking around when he gets inside, almost desperate to find someone who can tell him what’s going on, but there’s no one there, either. The halls are wide and vacant, each footstep echoing as he slowly makes his way further into the building. Classroom doors are wide open, the lights are on, and everything looks as it should, except for the fact that there are no teachers, no faculty, no student body, nobody to fill the space.

            For the next hour, he wanders through the entire school, searching each room, every nook and cranny, any space that he thinks someone may be. When he comes up empty handed, he tries again, roaming the building from bottom to top and then from top to bottom, to no avail. Eventually, he makes his way back outside, hands gripping his backpack straps so tight that his knuckles turn white. He’s never believed in any sort of God, no matter how often his parents tried making him attend church and youth group when he was a kid, but he finds himself praying that there’ll be someone around the corner – even one of the crotchety old men who always yell at him when he walks by would be a relief at this point. With a haste he hasn’t experienced since he was thirteen and trying to make his way through the sewers with his friends, he makes a beeline down street after street, heading to the dentist office that his father works at. When he arrives, he bursts inside, and is greeted by empty air.

            The same thing happens when he goes to his mother’s work, as well.

            Two hours into this, he starts knocking on every door, going from house to house and trying not to let the panic set in, though it gets harder and harder with each unanswered attempt. After scouring the entire town, he goes back to his house, pushing open the door and calling for his parents, hoping that they’ll be somewhere inside the building. He shouts until his voice is hoarse and his throat is raw, and it’s at this point that he has to sit down and breathe, his knees trembling so hard that he fears they’ll give out if he doesn’t.

            As the third hour hits, Richie has the sudden, terrifying realization that he is completely and utterly alone, stranded by himself in the cursed town of Derry, Maine.

 

 

 

 

            For a full month, Richie doesn’t leave Derry.

            He spends an entire week in his house, where he takes his time eating his way through the pantry and the fridge, watching movies on the TV and using his parents record player to listen to music. Anything he would have gotten yelled at for, he does – though his parents stopped yelling at him when he was fifteen, deciding he was old enough for more mature discussions rather than blatant scolding, but that’s besides the point. He makes his living room into a giant blanket fort, starts a bonfire in the backyard to roast marshmallows, and even turns the staircase into a giant slide. All of it is childish and a waste of time, he knows, but it’s a nice distraction from the fact that there’s no one else in the house, and probably no one else in the rest of the town, either. At one point, he slides down the railing to the stairs and ends up falling flat on his face, blood gushing from his busted nose. He lets out a groan of pain when it happens, and he almost whines out Eddie’s name – because he only ever does dumb shit like this when Eddie’s with him – but then his breath gets trapped in the back of his throat and the silence is much heavier than it had been before. It’s at that moment that he decides holing up in his house isn’t a good idea.

            During the second week, he wanders around Derry some more, checking public buildings and peeking through windows for anyone who may be hiding out due to confusion or comfort, like he had been. The streets feel intimidating in a way that he hasn’t experienced since he was a kid, when the world felt too big for someone as small as him to explore. He checks around each corner anxiously, hoping that there will be someone there, but there never is. As he makes his way down every street in town, he talks loudly to himself, just to fill the silence, and he wonders if there’s anyone hiding behind the locked doors of their house, but he doesn’t want to invade people’s privacy just to find out.

            But then the third week comes around, and he realizes that, if he really is alone here, there’s no such thing as privacy anymore. So, after gnawing on his lower lip nervously and looking around, as if expecting the police to suddenly appear despite knowing they won’t, he climbs up the front porch steps and he breaks into Bill Denbrough’s old house.

            Realistically, he knows Bill isn’t in here – knows that Bill hasn’t been here since they were fourteen and the losers hugged him goodbye in the front lawn – but part of him still expects the boy to be waiting inside. He’s randomly appeared in the past, after all. When Richie’s grandmother died two years ago, Bill convinced his parents to let him fly back to Derry just to spend the weekend with the Tozier’s and keep him company, being the shoulder to cry on that he always has been. He’s done the same for all of them at some point, and even though he moved to London, it’s never really felt like he was gone.

            Not until now, at least.

            The house is much different than it was three years ago, which is to be expected, but it’s still a little bit jarring. For starters, the people who moved in repainted the walls, making them a plain white rather than the soft, comforting yellow they had been before. The furniture isn’t at all like Richie remembers them being when the Denbrough’s lived here, the old brown couch that he slept on more times than he can count replaced with a plain black leather sofa – which, not to be petty, but Richie is certain that it isn’t nearly as comfortable as the one Bill had. Even the small details just aren’t the same, like the way the house feels. Where being here used to put Richie at ease, now it makes him feel stiff and uneasy, like he doesn’t belong. He chooses to ignore that for the time being, though, instead making his way through the bottom floor before heading up the stairs slowly, uncertainly.

            Bill Denbrough’s childhood bedroom has no trace of Bill Denbrough left behind. It’s clear that a teenager lives here, but it’s also clear that any hint of Bill has been cleaned out and wiped away. It feels completely unfamiliar and strange. Richie spends a solid five minutes standing there, taking it in, before promptly spinning around and running out of the house as fast as he possibly can. He doesn’t like how it feels to be in there. He doesn’t like it at all.

            For the following few days, he continues to do this, breaking into people’s houses and seeking the presence of anyone, though he doesn’t find a single person during this time. He does start packing up the useful stuff he can find, however, dumping his school shit out in the middle of the street and filling his bag with food and drinks that he snacks on throughout the day. He goes through Ben’s old house and snickers to the point of tears when he sees New Kids on the Block is still written on the wall inside of what used to be Ben’s closet. He can remember how long it took them to get Ben to agree to writing it, promising that they’d take full responsibility if his mom ever found out, but she never did, and, as he can now see, the words never went away. A similar experience happens with Bev’s old place, too, where he swears he can see a drop of blood glinting on the bathroom floor, but when he blinks he sees it is merely an old stain, a remnant of what had been there before.

             He walks past Stan’s place a few times, too, but it takes a couple hours of hyping himself up before he’s capable of going inside. It only takes six minutes before he has to push his way back onto the street, biting down on his lip so hard that he can taste blood on his tongue and trying to ignore the tears burning hot and angry behind his eyes. He’s only seen Stan a handful of times since he moved away, the few times his parents allowed him to visit his friends still in Derry. It isn’t the same as having all seven of them together, but it’s something. Ever since becoming the last three losers in Derry, Mike, Eddie and Richie have held on and looked forward to each and every visit they could get from the everyone else.

            Now he isn’t sure he’ll ever see any of them again. That’s not exactly a good thought to have though. He opts to push it away for a later time.

            The day that Richie decides he needs to leave town is the day he finally goes to Eddie's house.

            He isn't positive, but he's fairly certain it's been about four weeks since everyone else vanished, leaving him terribly and terrifyingly alone. Time has felt different since then, the days either blinking away far too fast or dragging by way too slow, so it's hard to tell, especially since he hasn't been keeping close track of anything since this all began. All he knows for sure is that his house feels different without his parents in it, and he always thought that the people of Derry made it so intimidating, but it's much scarier like this, the streets bare and the buildings empty. That shouldn't be too surprising, though, since he knows Derry hides a much bigger evil than what humans are capable of, than what the average person can even begin to comprehend.

            But that's not a good thought to have, either, so he chooses to ignore it. Instead, he wanders around, looks through some more unexplored houses, and tries to keep himself occupied despite having no idea what else there is for him to do. For a majority of this day, he talks loudly to himself to fill the silence, reciting his favorite movie scenes and singing his favorite songs at the top of his lungs. He figures that, if there is someone out there who he just hasn't come across yet, they'll have to reveal themselves eventually, even if it's just to tell him to shut up. That'd be better than nothing, he supposes. Hell, he'd be satisfied if someone emerged from the shadows just to beat the shit out of him and then run away. At least he'd know someone was there.

            It's as he's thinking of these things that he makes a subconscious turn down a road he's been avoiding since he left the confines of his home. He doesn't even realize what he's doing until he comes to a stop on the front lawn of the Kaspbrak residence, and when he does, he can feel his mind go blank and his mouth go dry in the span of two seconds, wide eyes staring up at the house before him with mortified shock.

            Oh, fuck.

            He's been actively turning away from this house since he first discovered the absence of everyone else. There's a reason why, but he's been actively ignoring that, too, because he doesn't want to confront these kinds of things when there's nothing he can do about them anyway.

            Before he can convince himself to walk away, he takes a shaky step forward, instinctively moving to the side of the house to approach the window waiting there. He's been climbing through this thing for as long as he can remember, back when his scrawny little legs could barely carry himself in despite Eddie's house being one story, putting the window about four, maybe five feet off the ground. It's pure muscle memory at this point, the process of pushing open the glass and tossing his bag inside before making his way in, using his arms to lift himself and kick off the house lightly in order to get the momentum to swing a leg over the window pane, letting out a quiet gust of air once he's able to slip all the way through. For a moment, he holds his breath, listening for any footsteps like he always does when he sneaks into Eddie's room, but he lets the breath out loudly when he remembers that there won't be any. Usually, having no Sonia in the house is a relief, meaning he doesn't have to watch his volume when he comes to visit, but no Sonia means no Eddie, and that's the opposite of what Richie wants right now.

            Spending time with Eddie has always been one of Richie's favorite things to do, but it became even more so in recent years. With a majority of their friends moving away and Mike being home schooled, they've only really had each other for the past year and a half, seeing as no one else at Derry High gives a shit about them. Ever since Bowers got locked up in Juniper, the other members of his shitty little gang declared either missing (Patrick) or dead (Belch and Victor), there hasn't been much harassment or bullying. Sure, they still get the occasional snide comment, usually consisting of gross slurs and speculations about their friendship, but neither of them cared about what anyone has to say about them.

            During the summer, they saw Mike more often, but even then, he's getting busier and busier by the day, taking on more and more responsibility at the farm to help take the workload off of his father, who's slowly but surely getting weaker with each passing year. It makes sense why, since becoming a duo rather than members of a larger group, Eddie and Richie have gotten impossibly closer, more so than they ever have been before. Richie's spent so many nights sitting on this carpeted floor talking dumb shit that he can practically hear the echo of his and Eddie's voices in the silence that encompasses him, weighing down his shoulders and making his chest feel heavy and painful. Each breath is slow and agonizing, and he wants to throw himself back out the window and run away, but his feet stay planted.

            He doesn't move.

            Eddie's room is simplistic yet cluttered, plain white walls plastered with posters and pictures that the losers have gifted him over the years. There's a section of wall by the window full of nothing but polaroid’s, something that was started when they were twelve-years-old and Wentworth gave Richie his old camera, who promptly gave it to Eddie when he saw how much Eddie loved the damn thing. The first picture pinned up was a practice shot - Eddie's first attempt at handling a polaroid, where the camera was pointed in Richie's general direction but was moving too much to get a clear image, resulting in a shaky photo of a young Richie, his grin wide and cheesy, the flash reflecting off his glasses and his pasty skin looking a ghostly white. It's not a flattering picture, but Eddie insisted it was important and kept it anyway. Since then, more and more polaroid’s have joined the first, becoming quite an impressive collection of photos consisting mostly of the losers.

            It's this wall that Richie approaches after a moment of standing completely still, scanning over the photographs with watery eyes. He can pinpoint when each and every picture was taken - the one of Mike holding up a kitten and grinning is from Beverly's fourteenth birthday, when she had her aunt drive back to Derry to celebrate with them; the shot of Stan and Ben hugging under the starry night sky is from the night they both came clean about the fact that they were moving within the following month, and while they'd all been upset about it, they still managed to have a good time; the picture of Beverly in a large green flannel and a cigarette hanging from her mouth is from when she came back to celebrate Eddie’s sixteenth birthday with them; the photo of Bill on a porch swing is from the day before he moved, when they had one last sleepover at the mostly-empty Denbrough house, just for old-time’s sake.

            And then there’s Richie’s favorite picture, hidden among the rest but easy for him to find.

            He is the one who put it up there, after all.

            Mike had taken it, about two months ago, when the three of them were hanging out together at the quarry, trying to soak in the last of summer before September hit. They ended up staying out far later than intended, but they were having a good time, so they didn’t really care. Hours had gone by at a pleasant pace, the three of them talking and laughing, but eventually, they began to get tired. Richie was the first to succumb to his fatigue, his head in Eddie’s lap, which is when Eddie, who had brought his camera along to get a couple pictures, quickly gave the camera to Mike to snap a photo of them. The picture isn’t too good, kind of blurry and dark around the edges, but Eddie is grinning, his hands in Richie’s hair as Richie remains unaware of what is going on. While he may have grumbled about it after waking up, he is the one who insisted Eddie put it on the wall, and he’s been secretly admiring it ever since.

            With a deep, shaky breath, Richie carefully takes the picture off the wall and sits heavily on Eddie’s bed, staring down at it with wide eyes, his teeth sinking into his lower lip. The light filtering in from the window, bright and monochrome from the winter clouds gathering overhead, reflects against the surface of the polaroid, making it shine in his hands. His breath stutters in his chest, his throat closing and his eyes stinging with the threat of tears. Sniffling weakly, he brings up a shaky hand and brushes his hair out of his face before allowing himself to lay down on the mattress, and he absently realizes that the sheets smell like Eddie still. He lets out a long exhale, pressing the photo to his chest and pulling the blankets over him, and he begins to weep.

            He thinks that another full week goes by, or maybe it doesn’t, but it feels close to it. He only leaves Eddie’s room to venture to the kitchen for food when the snacks in his backpack run out, and he spends a majority of time just going through Eddie’s things – most of which have specific memories tied to them, moments from their childhood floating through his mind at a constant, overwhelming rate. It’s as he’s here that he decides he needs to do something about this situation he’s in, needs to leave Derry entirely and really look for people elsewhere. For all he knows, something happened to get the town evacuated and he was just unintentionally left behind. Maybe, if he leaves, he’ll find everyone else, and everything will be fine. Different, but fine.

            Though he knows his parents would never leave him, and his friends would have returned to Derry just to get him if he had been forgotten, but any hope is worth holding on to.

            The night before he really leaves, he decides to figure out the exact date.

            He figures, if he ever gets the chance to see everyone again, he wants to know how much time he missed. At first, he tries to locate something that might just tell him the date, like a fancy alarm clock or something like that, but he comes up empty handed. Desperate, he makes his way into the Kaspbrak living room and takes the calendar that’s hanging up off of the wall, settling himself at the dining room table with a sharpie in hand and his mind reeling, trying to add up the days that have gone by. He knows it was the first of October when this happened, so he makes a point to circle that date on the calendar to mark the beginning of… whatever the hell this is. After a moment of consideration, he counts up eight days that he spent in his home, before he started going around Derry, and another seven days of said wandering before he went into Bill’s house, which brings him to the fifteenth of October. After that, it took eleven days before he went in Eddie’s house, and that was… five days ago, which adds up to sixteen. Combine that with before, and that brings it up to the thirty-first of October.

            An entire month. That’s how long he’s been alone.

            For the rest of the night, he makes a list of everything he wants to take with him, things he refuses to leave behind – though he knows that, if he ever comes back, the things he doesn’t bring will likely be exactly where he left them. Once the sun rises, he bids farewell to Eddie’s house, the picture of them tucked safely into his back pocket, and he walks over to the dentist office his father works at. It only take a minute or so to locate Wentworth’s car, and he’s pleasantly surprised to discover it unlocked with the keys sitting in the front seat. If they were evacuated, his dad probably did this on purpose, knowing that Richie would find it. Or, if everyone simply vanished into thin air, it happened before Went got out of the car. Richie prefers to think that it’s the first one, and he drives back to his house to pack his things, storing some more snacks and such in the passenger seat and making sure he grabs the stash of emergency money hidden in the kitchen. If the rest of the world is fine, he’s going to need cash for gas and food.

            The clock on the dashboard says that it’s just past noon when he finally deems himself ready, and he looks over briefly, eyeing the calendar he brought with him from Eddie’s house, and he hopes that November will be better than October was. He hopes that he’ll find someone out there who can tell him what’s going on, and perhaps even find his friends and family, too.

            And with these hopes, he turns the key and he drives away.

 

 

 

 

[March, 1994]

 

            On Richie’s tenth birthday, his parents took him, Bill, Eddie and Stan to an indoor water park a few hours outside of Derry. It hadn’t been a surprise, really, but Richie acted like it was, putting on a performance by pretending to have no clue where they were going, and his parents let him, knowing it was only for good fun, and to bring laughter from his friends, who were just as excited as him. The drive felt like it lasted days, but they got to their location eventually, and the rides towered over them, making them feel minuscule in the best possible way. Even though they were all at least a little bit scared, none of them let that fear stop them from climbing the steps to the tallest waterslide the water park had to offer and going down it, screams loud, terrified, and ecstatic. They stayed there until the park closed, going on every ride over and over and over again, and Richie thought that he would never have a birthday better than that one.

            Then his fourteenth birthday came around, and he had more friends than he did before, and the six of them that were in Derry were loaded into Arlene Hanscom’s minivan and driven all the way to Portland to spend the entirety of spring break with Beverly at her aunt’s house. It was nearly a full month after Richie’s actual birthday, but they made it clear that, although late, it was meant to be a present for him, a chance to celebrate with all of his friends by his side, and he knew that it couldn’t get better than this.

            Again, he was proven wrong, as it was on his seventeenth birthday that he had his first kiss.

            Despite all his joking, Richie wasn’t exactly as much of a stud as he claimed to be. Actually, he was, by all definitions of the word, a complete and utter virgin, and by the time he neared his seventeenth birthday, he started to feel embarrassed about it. He complained about it for days to his friends – to Eddie in school, to Mike when they could hang out, and to everyone else over the phone – until all of them had told him to shut up about it at least thirty times. He didn’t shut up, though, whining about how he hated knowing he was basically a year away from being an adult and hadn’t had any experience with anything before. It wasn’t until the night before his birthday that he stopped complaining, and that was mostly because he spent the night watching movies with Mike, Eddie and his parents in his living room. The plan was to wait until midnight and have a few cupcakes to celebrate, but his folks worked hard at their jobs and passed out halfway through the second movie, Mike following not far behind, his head lulling to the side and his parted lips ghosting out quiet little snores by the fourth film. When the clock struck twelve, Richie and Eddie were the only two still kicking, and Richie immediately turned towards Eddie with a wide grin, whispering, “Do you want to eat all the cupcakes, since they fell asleep?”

            And then Eddie kissed him.

            It had been short, soft, and Richie sat stock still the entire five seconds that it lasted, his eyes wide behind his crooked glasses and jaw unhinged in shock. Eddie pulled back, eyes fluttering open slowly, and all Richie could get out was a breathy little, “Um…”

            “A cupcake sounds great,” Eddie said then, hopping to his feet and holding a hand out to help Richie stand. The only clue to what had just happened was the warm blush on both of their cheeks, but neither of them brought it up again. It was just something that they both knew of, and Richie no longer complained about his lack of kissing ever again, because his first kiss was from his best friend in the world and that was more than enough. He knew, without a doubt, that he could never have a better birthday, because nothing could ever top that.

            And, it appears, he was right that time.

            In the middle of Philadelphia, with a cigarette dangling from his lips and an empty gas station behind him, Richie watches the clock strike midnight. He expects to feel something when it happens, whether it be dread or excitement or a queasy concoction of them both, but all he does is blink and grab the notebook from the dashboard, taking the cap off his pen and scanning over the page for an empty spot.

            March 7, 1994, he writes slowly, and for a long moment, all he can do is stare at the words.

            He’s eighteen-years-old today.

            Turning eighteen was supposed to be a big deal. His parents had been hinting at some big birthday surprise before all of this happened, saying that Christmas would be fine but his birthday would be way better. More than once, Maggie would look at him, misty-eyed and smiling, before hugging him close and cooing that she couldn’t believe her baby was almost an adult. Even Went, who was a stubborn man at heart, shed a few tears over the idea of seeing his son hit this milestone. His friends and him had discussed what they wanted to do to celebrate turning eighteen for months and months, and when Eddie’s eighteenth birthday came around in September, they wanted to all get together to celebrate but were unable to make it happen. Ben and Bev were the only two who could get back to Derry in time, but they had plans to meet up, all seven of them together for the first time since they were fifteen, during winter break and have a collective Christmas/Birthday bash for everyone.

            Because eighteen is important. The end of childhood, the beginning of something else. A new era. The big one-eight. Something to be excited about, something to throw a party over, something Richie had been looking forward to.

            He doesn’t really feel like celebrating anymore.

            When the cigarette burns to a stub, he plucks it from his mouth and tosses it carelessly out of the open window, his gaze catching momentarily on the dull glimmer of stars hidden behind clouds up above. In the back of his mind, he can hear his mother telling him that he should never smoke, can hear Eddie murmuring about how he lost his father to lung cancer, can hear his dad lecturing him about why smoking is the worst decision he’ll ever make. He can picture Beverly, red hair glimmering in the summer sun, visiting Derry for a few days when they were sixteen, sharing a cigarette with him and telling him how badly she wanted to quit, and he can remember himself promising her that they would quit together.

            As he reminisces on these things, he brings another cigarette to his lips and he lights it.

            Eighteen was going to be a big year, Richie thinks. He was supposed to graduate, get accepted into a good college – hopefully the same as at least one of the other losers. He was supposed to drive out of Derry with the intention of not coming back until Christmas, when he would return only to see his parents. He was supposed to start his real life outside of that town, away from the bigots and the assholes, with his best friends, his losers, his family. He was supposed to be free.

            He was supposed to kiss Eddie again.

            That’s the thought that really gets to him, because that is a plan he completely forgot about. It had been a mere idea back in June, when he’d been kept up late with his mind full of thoughts that he couldn’t shake away. On that night, he thought about Eddie a lot, about their kiss, about their friendship, about how much closer they had gotten since becoming the only two members of their group to attend Derry High, therefore making them attached at the hip far more than they had been before, and he decided that he didn’t want to go his whole life without at least trying for something more. For the sake of romantic value, he chose to wait, saying that he would kiss Eddie when he turned eighteen, exactly a year after Eddie kissed him, and they would have a long, lengthy talk, and no matter what came out of that talk was, whether it be a continued friendship or more, he would be happy, because at least he tried, and at least he still had Eddie in his life.

            Now he wishes he hadn’t waited.

            Now he wishes he had jumped out of bed, gone to Eddie’s house, and kissed him right then, wasting no time in getting his point across, because now he doesn’t have Eddie in his life. Now he has no one in his life. He has nothing but himself, and he wishes he had acted before this happened, but he didn’t do that. No, he waited, thinking that was the better choice to make, and then he woke up on the first of October in a world lacking people, lacking the losers, lacking Eddie.

            The cigarette burns hot in his mouth, and the ash falls carelessly onto his arm, but he doesn’t pay it any mind, not even when the heat of it singes his skin. He doesn’t even bother to brush the ash away, letting it rest there. All he does is close his eyes, lower his head, and cry.

 

 

 

 

[August, 1997]

 

            It takes a few days, but after a lot of digging around the local office building for the right public records, Richie manages to track down Stan’s house.

            This place looks nothing like the Uris’s residence back in Derry did, bigger and brighter in many different ways. With a front lawn big enough to put a soccer field in and a porch that looks unnecessarily large, Richie can see the appeal of wanting to live here – can see why Stan had been so excited about his new house, no matter how upset he was about leaving his friends behind. Back in Derry, Stan’s place was much smaller, giving him no space to himself and no opportunity to hide from the scrutiny of his strict father and condescending mother. The Uris’s meant well with their son, but they never noticed the repercussions of their actions, never saw how much Stan shrunk in on himself when in their presence, instinctively trying to make himself smaller in the hopes of becoming invisible in their eyes. He told Richie once, when they were freshly fifteen and huddled together reading comic books in Richie’s room, that he would rather his parents pretend he didn’t exist than put so much pressure on him. Richie, who was well aware of how it felt like to have parents who acted like he didn’t exist, wasn’t sure what to say to that, so he turned the page and said nothing instead.

            According to Stan, moving to Atlanta, Georgia had done his family a lot of good. His parents loosened up considerably after the move, for reasons Stan himself couldn’t figure out, and he had been able to skip a grade after attending a much better school district, therefore catching him up to the rest of the losers after being held back a year in elementary. He made some friends, not many, and none as close to him as the ones he had back in Derry were, but they were enough to keep him entertained until he could see the losers again. One time, when Richie and him were on the phone, Stan had gushed to him for nearly two hours about how the only thing that could make living in Atlanta better would be having the rest of the losers with him. Richie was happy for him, ecstatic even, and wished more than anything that he would be able to go visit the Uris’s sometime in the near future to see what all the hype was about.

            Now he gets it. Or, at least, he thinks he does.

            The property is pretty unkempt, weeds overgrown and grass almost a comical height, but Richie knows that’s from the years that have gone by without anyone to tame it. Hell, Richie knows his own yard back in Derry must be a disaster by now – he was seventeen when he left, and he’s twenty-one now. Three and a half years is a long time without the lawn being mowed, so it only makes sense.

            He can easily imagine what the yard must have looked like before, though, when the Uris’s were still here. Even though Andrea and Donald loosened up as parents, Richie has no doubt they were still strict in terms of appearance when it came to their home, and he can see some remnants of the hard work they put into taking care of this place. There’s a shed on the far-left side of the house, the door wide open, and from where Richie stands in the center of the yard, he can see the gardening tools, the lawn mower, and other equipment meant to care for the greenery he stands upon. He almost laughs when he thinks about how Andrea would react if she saw this, but then he remembers that Andrea won’t be reacting to anything, and Stan won’t be in this house.

            Still, he goes inside.

            Much like he did back in Derry upon entering Bill’s old house, part of him still expects Stan to be waiting there, despite knowing for a fact that he won’t be – a twenty-one year old Stan, though, not the teenager Richie last saw, but his age wouldn’t have changed his personality much. Stan’s always been mature in the places where it counts and immature in the places it’s most fun, and Richie always thought that quality would carry over into adulthood, making him able to handle a situation and take care of himself, but also making him able to tell a real good joke and laugh himself to tears over it. Which is why, when Richie pushes open the front door with minimal resistance from the rusty hinges, he expects to hear Stan’s voice, the slightest bit deeper and smoother from physical maturity, call out a sarcastic comment about how it took long enough for Richie to get here, about how he’s been waiting for years and Richie clearly hasn’t stopped his trend of being late to things despite having no one in the world to slow him down.

            It’s silent, though, and Richie steps further into the home. He knew that it would be quiet, but that doesn’t make it any easier, and it only gets worse when he looks around and recognizes what he sees.

            Some of the furniture has been replaced, but Richie recognizes the curtains on the windows, and the pillows on the couch. They’re small relics, really, things Richie recalls seeing when he was young and stayed at Stan’s house for the night, but they confirm that he really is at the right place, and that thought makes his heart thud. Slowly, footsteps light and cautious, almost afraid to disturb the items within the home, he makes his way around the bottom floor, peeking through doors and taking in the interior of it all. He thinks back to his phone calls with Stan, tries not to acknowledge that they’re getting fuzzy in his mind thanks to all the time that’s passed, and he tries to apply the stories he was told to the rooms he sees. It’s pleasant to do, picturing Stan’s life here. It almost makes the ache in his chest go unnoticed.

            But when he goes upstairs and finds Stan’s room, the ache is all consuming. It burns and spreads across his torso, feeling like a fire ignited within his ribcage and scorching his insides. He chokes on a breath, the air getting caught in his throat and the charred remains of his lungs too weak to help him, but all of that is in the back of his mind, and at the forefront is the room before him.

            For a moment, it feels as though he’s been transported through time. He almost looks over and expects to see a chubby-cheeked Stan, with his boy scout uniform and his toothy grin, but then he blinks and comes back to himself, remembering where he is, both in terms of place and time.

            Stan is not here, he reminds himself. Stan is not here. Stop getting your hopes up.

            He has to repeat this sentiment in his mind a few more times before he can remember why he came here. Jaw clenching, he raises a hand, brushes some curls out of his face, absently notes that he needs to find some scissors to trim his hair soon if he wants to keep it from getting out of control, and he gets to work. At first, he just skims over the surface of the room, shuffling through the old papers and smaller objects littering the area, but nothing catches his eyes as worth keeping. He considers leafing through Stan’s closet and taking a couple sweatshirts as souvenirs, but that doesn’t seem like enough.

            He wants something meaningful to take with him, like the polaroid he took from Eddie’s room, the journal from Mike’s and the necklace he got from Bev’s – the latter two he got on his way out of Maine back in November of ’93. He’s been wanting to do this since then, wanting to collect some items from each of them in order to have something with him at all times to remember them by. Something that matters. Something that Richie can really cherish until the day he hopefully sees them again.

            Though, he will probably take some sweatshirts, too, if any of them even fit him. He doesn’t know if seventeen-year-old Stan and twenty-one year old Richie are close enough in size to share clothes, but it’s worth a shot.

            For the next fifteen minutes, he really rifles through Stan’s room, ignoring the bitter guilt in the back of his throat and telling himself that Stan would understand if he were here, which he isn’t. No matter how many times he goes through empty houses, though, it never fails to feel like he’s doing something wrong, like he’s invading someone’s privacy, even more so when the house is one of his best friend’s. He thought he’d be used to it by now, but the feeling never goes away. The guilt is always worth it, however, and this time is no exception, as Richie, after searching every inch of the room from top to bottom, finally finds something that feels important enough to bring with him.

            Growing up, Stan was in love with bird watching. He was gifted bird books as presents and carried a pair of binoculars around his neck everywhere he went. Richie never really understood it, and often teased Stan for it in good fun, but he always admired it, the way Stan dedicated himself wholeheartedly despite the fact that he had no one to indulge in this interest with. He didn’t care that he was the only birdwatcher in Derry. He only cared about the birds. About seeing them, observing them, and drawing them.

            Richie believes that Stan could have been an amazing artist, had he chosen to pursue it, but Stan insisted it was a hobby limited solely to putting the things he sees on the page. This sketchbook, however, proves otherwise, each page filled with detailed drawings of nature, animals, and even a few of his friends. It’s not a large sketchbook, one that could easily be held in a small bag, but too big to fit in his back pocket. That doesn’t matter, though, because he has a car, and if this car breaks down (or, rather, when this car breaks down) he will have an endless supply of other cars to choose from, so he can bring whatever he likes with him. So long as it fits in the car, and this most certainly will.

 

 

 

 

            He realizes he won’t be able to get a souvenir from every loser about three hours after leaving Stan’s house, when the sun is setting over the Georgia horizon and the mix tapes he’s been listening to since he was seventeen are crooning gently from the speakers of the car. It’s his fourth car since leaving, having to switch vehicles when the last one ends up breaking down. Having to leave his dad’s car behind in Ohio was easily one of the hardest things he’s done, but he likes to be objective about it – if he ever sees his loved ones again, he’ll tell them everything he had to do, and they will understand. They won’t be upset with him.

            The drive is peaceful, sky a gradience of blues and pinks and purples, the moon already in sight and stars beginning to shine through here and there. The polaroid of him and Eddie is tucked safely in his front pants pocket, Bev’s necklace dangling between his collarbones, Stan’s sketchbook and Mike’s journal sitting in the passenger seat, and with a quick glance around the car, he starts to think about where to go next. Realistically, tracking down Ben’s house is easier, since Bill moved to London, but-

            And then it dawns on him, the obvious truth, a fact that he can’t believe he didn’t realize until right now, and the realization sucks the air right out of his lungs.

            There’s no way he can get to London. He doesn’t know how to operate a plane or a boat, and even if he did, he doesn’t know how to get to the UK from here.

            He can’t find something of Bill’s to carry with him.

            Without bothering to give it a moment of thought, he yanks on the steering wheel, the car making a sharp right turn off the road and careening into a parking lot, the entire vehicle shuddering slightly with the strain put on it as Richie slams on the breaks, bringing it to a sudden stop. His breathing is heavy, like he just ran a mile, and his head is spinning, grappling hopelessly for some kind of solution, something he can do to fix this, to make it so that he can do this, but nothing comes to mind. Squeezing his eyes shut, he tightens his grip on the steering wheel, trying to even out his breaths, but that doesn’t help. Frustration bubbles in his chest, anger and despair and anguish and rage, and all he can think to do is throw the door open, scramble to get out of the vehicle, and lash out entirely.

            His fists hit the car hard enough to bruise, his kicks weak but still forceful enough to send little shockwaves of pain through his knees, but he doesn’t acknowledge that until all the energy inside of him burns away, leaving him slumped against the hood with ragged breaths and split knuckles. It aches, each flex of his hand making it worse, but he just sniffles once, grabs his fresh pack of cigarettes out of the glovebox, and takes a look around.

            The lot he’s in much have been popular before all this, because nearly every parking spot has a car in it. On one edge of the lot is some kind of restaurant, but the sign must have fallen and the name is undetectable, so he can’t figure out what, exactly, it was called. On the other side is what appears to be a bar, the sign out front labeling the place Joe’s, posters full of mugs of beer plastered to all the windows. Richie stares at them for a few minutes, lit cigarette hanging limply from his lips, before straightening his shoulders and making his way across the pavement. If anyone deserves a drink, it’s him.

            Maybe taking a break will do him some good.

            Ever since leaving Derry three and a half years ago, Richie’s constantly been on the move. He’s searched through cities and towns, spending every waking moment seeking out any other person that might be out there. Sure, he lays down every night, and usually manages to get at least a few hours of rest, but he has yet to take a day off or give himself an evening to sit down and relax. Of course, he’s certain he won’t relax no matter what, but that’s not the point. The point is, he hasn’t stopped in three and a half years, and he’s going to lose his god damn mind if he doesn’t give himself some time to recuperate.

            So, he gets drunk. Fucking wasted. Hammered beyond belief.

            He had a few sips of alcohol during his teenage years, mostly when the losers decided to smuggle something that belonged to their parents along with them to the quarry or something, but none of them ever drank enough to really feel it. It was mostly done for the exhilaration of breaking the rules – they didn’t care much about the intoxication part. If anything, it was to make themselves feel like normal kids, to help them pretend the horrors they faced in the sewers of Derry had just been a collective nightmare and hadn’t been real, though they all knew the truth within themselves. Still, they preferred to not bring it up, and they did what they could to tell themselves it never happened in the first place.

            But now, Richie seeks the highest form of intoxication. He wants to get so plastered that he can’t remember his own name. He wants to drink until he passes out and needs to sleep for a few days to recover. He wants to forget everything in a drunken haze and dance the night away.

            Luckily, Joe’s Bar has a functioning jukebox in it, which only takes a few minutes for Richie to get working, and he’s pleasantly surprised to find the thing is hooked up to some speakers to enhance the volume. The song selection consists mostly of fifties, sixties, and seventies music, but it gets the job done in drowning out the silence, which is exactly what Richie needs right now. He selects a random Best of the 50’s album and wastes no time to vault himself over the bar and start rifling through the wide selection of drinks behind it. All he knows about these drinks are what he heard in movies growing up, plus the occasional conversations his parents shared with aunts and uncles around the holidays, when they had too much spiked eggnog to control what it was they were saying. To be fair, he never paid much attention to to those conversations in the first place, but he vaguely recalls a few brands of wine that his Aunt Clara really seemed to dislike. Not that there’s any wine in a seedy bar like this, anyway.

            Deciding to throw caution to the wind, he grabs the closest bottle to him, and all he can tell from the worn down label is that it’s supposedly some kind of vodka. Bopping his head along to For What It’s Worth by Buffalo Springfield, Richie pulls himself back onto the bar to sit on the countertop, his legs dangling over the edge as he unscrews the cap to the bottle, giving himself no time to prepare before he brings it to his lips and tips his head back to take a swig of the contents inside.

            It takes half an hour of coughing and spluttering his way through the bottle before he stops caring about the way it burns when it goes down his throat. The songs keep playing, sounding more like background noise than anything else in his otherwise cloudy mind, but as he gets more and more drunk, he starts to loosen up, the tension bleeding from his muscles and his thoughts blurring until he can barely think at all. By the hour and a half mark, he can hardly remember where he is and why, can only tilt his head back and sing along loudly to every song that comes on. He gets up at one point to switch to an All Out 60’s album, and from that point on, he dances along, too, shouting the lyrics to the ceiling and letting himself have fun for the first time since all of this began.

            Two hours and eleven minutes in, a very familiar song comes on.

            You’re just too good to be true, the jukebox coos gently, the words echoing around the room. Richie comes to a standstill, jaw unhinged and eyes drifting shut as he remembers the last time he listened to this song. More specifically, what had happened when he did.

            It was a few months after his seventeenth birthday, the middle of June and the beginning of summer break. Mike wasn’t available to hang out for a few more days, and none of the other losers were able to come visit Derry until July, leaving Richie and Eddie in charge of entertaining themselves. By that point, they were quite used to this, used to only having each other to rely on every day, due to the others moving away and Mike being so busy all the time, so it wasn’t a surprise, not really, but it was still a bit of a bummer, being unable to see all of their friends as often as they saw each other.

            On that particular day, they had chosen Richie’s room as their place of residence, the air conditioning blasting and the record player in the corner. The record player had belonged to Eddie’s father, and after Frank’s passing, it was the object of which Eddie became incredibly attached to but Sonia was oddly against him keeping, which is why he chose to have Richie take care of it. He knew that Richie wouldn’t let anything happen to it, and he often came over to the Tozier’s house just to lay down and listen to music. It became a tradition for Richie to surprise Eddie with new records for him to listen to when he came over, and this song had been on the record that Richie surprised him with that summer day.

            They weren’t doing anything, didn’t really want to do anything. Comics were scattered across the floor, but neither of them reached for one, opting to just lay back, shoulder to shoulder, and let the songs wash over them. And then this very song came on.

            Can’t take my eyes off you, the record player crooned, much softer than the jukebox that’s blaring the lyrics now, but Richie doesn’t notice that, too lost in his head to care.

            When the song came on, Richie had felt his heart in his throat, as he always did whenever a love song played while he was in Eddie’s presence. It had only gotten worse since the night of his birthday, when Eddie had kissed him, quick and careful, and then acted like it hadn’t happened. Neither of them had brought it up since then, but something about their dynamic had shifted, and it was evident in the way they reacted to Frankie Valli’s soothing tone, faces burning red and eyes averting to opposite sides of the room in order to avoid looking at each other.

            You’d be like heaven to touch, I want to hold you so much.

            Richie remembers the way his stomach twisted into knots, remembers becoming acutely aware of all the places they were touching – shoulders pressed together, elbows brushing against one another, legs knocking whenever they shuffled slightly. They were laying awfully close, barely any space left between them, and he hadn’t noticed that fact until the song had come on. He didn’t make any move the put space between them, though.

            Eddie didn’t, either.

            At long last love has arrived, and I thank God I’m alive.

            You’re just too good to be true, can’t take my eyes off you.

            They were still as bricks for a long moment, both of them just listening, and Richie knew, just from the tension in the air, that they were both thinking about the same thing – thinking about how they had kissed three months prior, about how it had been fairly pleasant, about how they wouldn’t mind doing it again. Neither of them brought it up, though, both petrified by the idea of being shot down by the other.

            Then, as the lyrics, Pardon the way that I stare, drifted through the air, Richie found himself turning his head, filled with the sudden need to be looking at Eddie in that moment. And with the next line – There’s nothing else to compare – Eddie looked at him, too.

            The sight of you leaves me weak, there are no words left to speak, the song went on, and Richie almost laughed, because the lyrics captured exactly what he was thinking in that moment. His body felt too heavy to move, his tongue incapable of forming words, his mind drawing a blank.

            And Eddie just kept staring back at him, grey eyes wide and curious, as if questioning what was going to come out of this, if anything was going to come out of it at all.

            But if you feel like I feel, please let me know that it’s real.

            You’re just too good to be true, can’t take my eyes off of you.

            Richie reached over and grabbed Eddie’s hand. He kind of wanted to close the gap between them and kiss him, but something told him that it wasn’t the right time, so he didn’t try. Eddie seemed satisfied by this, though, and offered him a toothy grin before turning his head and gazing happily up at the ceiling. For the rest of the song, Richie looked at Eddie, and Eddie knew that he was looking, and their intertwined fingers rested between them, and everything was okay.

            In the middle of Joe’s Bar, Richie opens his eyes, the song sounding far away and distant despite the fact that he’s standing a mere five feet away from one of the speakers. The room, bare and dusty and vacant, stares back at him. In his chest, where he once felt his heart pound nervously whenever him and Eddie were together, he feels nothing but an empty kind of sadness that swallows him whole.

 

 

 

 

[April, 2001]

 

            It must have been stunning, back in the day.

            Richie snorts under his breath, shaking his head to himself as he realizes how old that sentence makes him sound, but it’s true. He never went to Disneyland as a kid, but him and the losers had always talked about wanting to go. They said they would save up once they were all adults and take a trip together one day. They were determined to make it happen.

            And now Richie is here, standing in the park, all alone.

            The colors are somewhat muted with age, years wearing down the paint and making the whole place look much older than the pictures Richie saw when he was younger, but it’s clear that it used to be vibrant and beautiful. Every building, while covered in layers of grime and dust and mildew, still has some of its joyful energy shining through, a wink back in time to a much happier establishment, one that was filled to the brim with people every day of the week. The land of laughter and joy and childlike wonder. Somewhere he dreamed about visiting with his friends by his side, like most things.

            With careful steps, Richie makes his way through the park, his eyes sweeping over his surroundings in a dulled out sense of awe. If things were different, he’s sure he’d be having a blast here, running around and going on rides, playing games, enjoying his time with his friends. Mike and Ben, being the bigger Disney fans of the group, would have been forcing Eddie to get polaroid’s of them with every costumed worker they passed, giddy with excitement, grins so wide they physically ached. Beverly would have challenged Stan to every game they saw, whether it be more of an arcade game or something carnival-like, and the two of them, competitive at heart, would spend all their time and energy trying to beat each other. Richie and Bill, while both being excitable and energetic, have never been as narrowed down as the others, willing to do whatever everyone else wants and able to enjoy it no matter what – most likely, that trait is what would have made them the prime targets for being dragged along by Eddie, the secret adrenaline junkie of the group, to go on every single ride the park had to offer.

            Richie knows they could have spent days here, weeks even, and they never would have gotten bored. They would have gone to every single restaurant and ordered everything on the menu, just for the hell of it. See everything five times and still want to see it again.

            He supposes there’s a lot of reasons why he doesn’t want to stay here for very long now.

            For one, he never imagined walking through a vacant Disneyland all by himself at the age of twenty-five. The atmosphere is eerie here – more so than an empty city, because this is a place specifically known for bringing joy and excitement. To see an amusement park meant to be so bright and joyous in a state of abandonment and decay just feels wrong, in an abundance of ways. It feels like the skeleton of a life once lived, of a place once loved. It feels like everything is exactly where it always has been but something is just a little off and he can’t pinpoint what it is.

            Man, if Stan was here and felt like this, he’d get so pissed, Richie thinks idly, snickering softly to himself. Stan was never much of a hard-ass, only pretended to be one, but he was never a fan of things feeling off. He always preferred to know that everything was where it was supposed to be, if only for the sake of not wanting to be caught off guard by something not in its place. He was always funny like that, even when they were just little kids – he always wanted to feel prepared for anything the world might throw at them. Perhaps that’s why the summer of ’89 had affected him so badly. It fucked with all of them, of course, but it seemed much more deeply rooted with Stan for a long time.

            Then, like Stan always does, he developed, he adapted, and he strengthened.

            God, what Richie would do to get even a bit of advice from Stan now. Just a sentence, a single word, something to hold him over for longer. By this point, all Richie’s holding onto is the thin string of hope that maybe, somehow, something will change and he’ll see his friends again. He doesn’t know how it could happen, but he also doesn’t know how he managed to end up in this situation in the first place, so he supposes a lack of knowing shouldn’t be a defining factor in what he hopes for.

            But that doesn’t make it any easier. No, not even slightly. That just makes it… bearable at best, survivable at worst. And Richie believes that that is enough, at least for now.

            He spends a few hours at Disneyland, wandering around, seeing just how big it really is. At every corner, he stops and examines the area around him, imagining what the losers would be doing if they were here, but it’s hard to picture now. In his memory, they’re all still seventeen, with the exception of Eddie, who had turned eighteen the month before everyone vanished. He knows they’d look different now, older, recognizable but only after a second glance – much like Richie himself, who can barely recognize his own reflection when he looks in the mirror. It’s difficult to see the boy he once was, hidden behind tired eyes, hair that he only bothers to cut every six months or so, and a scraggly beard that he shaves simply because he’s never been a fan of letting his facial hair grow out too much in the first place. The only signs left behind that he’s the same person are his crooked teeth, his glasses, and the basic shape of his face that sharpened slightly with age, stress, and weight loss but is still mostly the same.

            If things had been different, he knows he wouldn’t look like this. He would have taken better care of himself, gotten newer, more flattering glasses, invested in contacts and kept himself healthy. Sure, he’s never been the most careful with what he eats and never saw the appeal in working out, but he would have stayed on top of his hygiene at least, would have grown into someone he was comfortable with and confident in. The others would have, too. They would have gone from amazing kids to incredible adults. They would have become successful, by their own definitions of the word. They would have done great things. Richie knows this, believes it with his entire heart.

            Beverly was already using her trauma to strengthen her at a young age. As soon as she fought against her father and survived the sewers, she became confident in her strength, standing taller and not letting anyone try to tell her who she was. She dressed the way she wanted, not caring about what people had to say about it, and she didn’t let anybody stop her from pursuing what she wanted. She got a job in Portland as soon as she was fifteen, something under-the-table at a restaurant by her aunt’s house, where she became a waitress at sixteen and was still working before this happened. If Richie were to guess, that quality would have carried over into adulthood. He thinks she would have started a business, maybe, or become a manager somewhere. She would have been in charge, the boss.

            As for how she would look now, well… Richie thinks she would have ended up keeping her hair short, at least until her late twenties, so he believes it’s be right below her ears around now, curled against the nape of her neck. She wouldn’t have gotten too tall, but he doesn’t think she’d be considered short, either – maybe in comparison to Richie and Bill, who have both been unreasonably tall since they were fourteen, but she’d be average height compared to the rest of the world. Anywhere between 5’6 to 5’8, really. Her freckles wouldn’t be nearly as prominent as they had been in her youth, but they’d still be detectable by anyone who bothered to look close enough.

            Stan would be around the same height as Beverly, with his hair above his ears and his overall appearance put together neatly. He wouldn’t be as up tight, Richie thinks, as he would no longer be trying to look presentable in the eyes of his parents, but the habit would carry over at least a smidge, making him the best dressed in their group without question. Richie believes he would look younger despite getting older, each year going by taking weight off his shoulders until he had nothing negative left to carry. By this point, Stan would be so carefree and happy with the world, the scars on the sides of his face barely visible and his brown eyes so bright and elated that looking at him could make anyone smile. He probably would have become an accountant, like his parents wanted him to be, but he’d be good at it and he’d find a way to make it something he enjoyed, something he loved to do rather than something he felt obligated to do. That’s something Richie’s always loved about Stan – even the worst things could be turned around with enough thought and strong will.

            There are many ways Richie believes Ben would have turned out –he could have become confident in who he was or he could have found the right reasons to lose weight. Either way, though, Richie knows that Ben would have found a way to be happy with who he was, bullies and judgement be damned. He wouldn’t be very tall, but he’d be taller than Beverly and Stan by a couple inches, reaching Richie’s lower neck or chin depending on how thick the soles on his shoes were. Clothes would be soft, comfortable, much like Ben himself. His smile would be kind and loving. He, in his entirety, would be good and wonderful. Richie knows that Ben was planning to pursue architecture, but he also knows that Ben was a damn good poet and wouldn’t have given that up. He’d publish poetry books full of deep thoughts and careful words, but he’d also build the most stunning buildings the world could possibly imagine. Everything he did would be incredible.

            Like Ben, Mike would find success and confidence in himself. He never let himself be held back by Bowers or anyone in the first place, but he definitely wouldn’t have allowed people to hold him back – wouldn’t have allowed discrimination and racism to hold him back. Richie isn’t positive what Mike’s future held, but he’s fairly certain that Mike was planning on staying in Derry and taking the farm over from his parents as they got older. Because of this, Richie thinks that Mike would be quite buff now, just as physically strong as he always has been mentally. He’d stand tall despite being an average height. Anyone in Mike’s presence would feel the warm sunlight radiating from his bright personality, pure soul and inviting grin. Richie misses that warmth the most, he thinks.

            Bill had been hard to pin when they were kids, showing no real interest in one specific thing for a very long time, but as middle school ended and high school began, he fell in love with writing. He told Richie one night, when they were on the phone and chatting idly, that he put his nightmares down on paper and it helped him to cope with everything that had happened to them – especially when it came to coping with the loss of Georgie, who he hadn’t given himself the chance to mourn over until after the events in the sewer. Richie had read a few of his short stories over their teenage years, and, terrifying as they were, he has to admit that they are easily some of the best things Richie’s ever read. Bill would have made a great author, and he would have fit the roll, putting his creativity into his stories. Not much about him would be different from aging, other than his height and potentially his build, depending on if he ever started working out or not. No matter what, though, Richie would admire how he carries himself, even though he knows Bill wouldn’t be so tall in private, would shrink in on himself, make himself small, as he succumbed to his thoughts. Richie always had a feeling that Bill’s mind was louder than anyone else’s, after all.

            The hardest to guess, however, is Eddie.

            Eddie was always one of the most complex people Richie’s ever met. He was just as loud as he was quiet, crudeness in one hand and innocence in the other. He talked about wanting to be a nurse or a doctor or a psychologist one day, but the next day he’d rant about how owning a mechanic shop was his dream. Even the simplest things about him were hard to grasp, like his taste in music, his choice in clothing, his idea of entertainment, the things he found funny and the things he deemed too far past the line to laugh about. It took a long, long time for Richie to understand Eddie’s mind.

            He liked to call himself the Eddie Expert, back when there was an Eddie for him to know everything about. That title doesn’t really apply anymore.

            Richie thinks that Eddie would have found a way to fulfill all of his passions. Maybe he wouldn’t have ended up pursuing medical school, but he probably would have majored in psychology, minored in mechanical engineering. He could have been a psychologist or a therapist on weekdays and run a mechanic shop on weekends. Or, maybe, he would have pursued medical school and became a nurse, a doctor, a surgeon, or something in that field. Richie may have been the Eddie Expert, but not even he could pinpoint what Eddie’s future held, what Eddie would have chosen to do. All Richie knows is that, once Eddie decided, he wouldn’t have given up until he achieved his goals, until he was living his best life and loving every minute of it. He wouldn’t have gotten much taller, no more than 5’6, but his existence would have radiated so much energy that he would feel like the biggest person in the room, the center of attention. Or, perhaps, that is just how Richie perceives it, because Eddie was always the center of his attention, but he likes to believe that everyone who met Eddie could see the potential, the sunlight, the pure love and goodness that came from his core, from the center of his being.

            Richie thinks that, if Eddie were here, if Eddie were in his place, he would have turned it into a challenge. A game, almost. A way to look at this empty world and make it something that’s almost enjoyable. So, deciding to give himself the chance to enjoy something, Richie approaches one of the rides, albeit a bit cautious and unsure. It’s a smaller ride, looking kind of like the classic Tea Cups that every carnival and fair has, but the control panel for it looks simple enough and that is precisely what Richie had been hoping for. After a few minutes of consideration and contemplation, he begins to search for a way to turn the ride on, pushing at buttons and flipping switches until, finally, he hears the machinery begin to whir. Excited, he looks up and watches as the platform begins to move, slowly at first, the rusted gears groaning in complaint, but then it starts to pick up speed. Richie grins—

            And then the ride stops, the whirring of gears grinding loudly, the sound of something snapping filling the air before a silence settles over him in a heavy blanket. His grin slowly fades away, his hands falling limply to his sides. The years of no use have really caused some damage, apparently, because the damn thing broke after a single attempt to get it working.

            Oddly enough, Richie isn’t that surprised. It fits the life he lives now – disappointing, a constant let down. He should have known better by this point than to get his hopes up like that, should know that allowing himself to hope will only result in exactly this, a vacant feeling of emptiness, a lost opportunity

            He is not Eddie, he realizes. He is not capable of making loneliness into something he can enjoy.

            With a soft sigh, one that reverberates in his chest and echoes gently in the empty space around him, he turns around and he doesn’t look back as he leaves.

 

 

 

 

[November, 2005]

 

            His jacket is thin, the air is beyond cold, and the hood of the car is not a comfortable place to lay down, but Richie stays there anyway, his spine pressed uncomfortably against the hard metal. The early winter chill makes his teeth chatter together loudly, and he knows being outside like this will get him sick, but he doesn’t care about that. All he does is shuffle slightly, adjusting the blanket in his lap until it covers his legs and his torso, the soft material gripped in his fists in an attempt to maintain some warmth from it. It’s not a very good blanket, though, and it doesn’t do much, but it’s better than nothing, so he just pulls it closer and lets out a slow breath that comes out in a little white cloud.

            Realistically, he should get up, get in the car, and go find a bed to sleep in for the night, but he doesn’t want to do that. No, he’d much rather sit here, cold as he may be, and look at the stars.

            He doesn’t know where he is.

            Well, that’s not completely true. He knows he’s somewhere by Kansas City, because he drove through it a few days ago, but he hasn’t bothered looking at any signs or maps since then. He hasn’t bothered with a lot of stuff recently, like cutting his hair or taming his beard. He can’t remember the last time he looked in a mirror and assessed what was there. He just doesn’t see the point of it.

            He doesn’t see the point in a lot of things anymore.

            It’s a dark thought, he knows, but it’s a true one. After spending… god, how many years has it been since he’s been by himself? At least a decade, right? It was ’93 when all of this happened, which was… twelve years ago, if he’s counting right. Staying caught up on the date is the only thing he hasn’t been slacking on, but he hasn’t put much thought into how many years have passed. Jesus, he’s almost thirty now. How the hell did that happen?

            That’s not the point, though. The point is, after spending twelve years suffocating in loneliness, it’s become more and more difficult to maintain a positive attitude towards the situation. Sure, he hasn’t given up yet, despite having an endless list of reasons for why he probably should, but he’s become a lot more pessimistic about things than he used to be. Where he once turned his despair into motivation to try harder, search longer, drive faster, but now… now the heaviness in his lungs just makes him tired, drowsy and slow. It’s getting harder to push himself forward, to wake up in the morning, hop in whatever car he’s got his hands on, and go. The only thing that motivates him is looking at the relics he has of his friends – the polaroid, the necklace, the journal, the sketchbook, and the poetry book he got from Ben’s. There’s still nothing of Bill’s, which always leaves a bitter taste in the back of Richie’s mouth when he thinks about it, but he can live with that. Or, at least, he could, when he was still hopeful that he’d see Bill again some day. Now that hope has begun to dwindle, shrink, becoming more of an unrealistic wish in the back of his mind that he isn’t sure will ever come true, no matter how much he wants it to.

            God, he wants it to. He wants it to so fucking bad.

            He never liked being alone when he was younger. Something about it was panic inducing, to the point where it was hard to sleep at night when he wasn’t having a sleepover – which was never much of a problem, because Eddie, Stan and Beverly took any chance they could to get out of their houses, and Mike never had to worry about school nights like the rest of them. Even after a majority of the losers moved away, Eddie and Mike made sure that he wasn’t left alone as much as they possibly could, knowing how much he hated it. His parents had a long, extensive conversation with him about it, back when they were both too busy to really pay that much attention to him, when Went unintentionally prioritized his job over his family and Maggie didn’t see the problem in getting a little tipsy every night, every afternoon, every morning, every day. It was actually this talk that brought them back to earth and urged them to fix their shit, but the damage of being unintentionally neglected for so long had already been done. Richie was petrified of being alone, of being forgotten, of not having a constant reminder that people actually gave a shit about him and wanted him around.

            Now he’s always alone, and he hates it with every fiber of his being, but he’s used to it, too. For a long time, he used his volume to feel a little better, often shouting down empty streets and into vacant buildings. Sometimes he pretended his own echo was someone else, just to spark something within him that urged him to keep going, a little voice that told him that it wouldn’t just be an echo next time, it’d be a person, someone real, someone there, someone to keep him company, but no one ever called back to him. No one has been there for twelve fucking years.

            Richie can’t remember the last time he used his voice. Hell, he can’t even remember what it sounds like. That thought makes him frown.

            He stopped trying to speak over the silence a long time ago. It became more sad than comforting, a reminder that there was no one to talk to but himself. His throat feels raw and scratchy now, but that could also be because he hasn’t stopped to get some water in two days. It’s almost funny, when he thinks about it – if the losers saw how quiet he is now, they’d have a stroke. He never shut up back then, talking everyone’s ears off at any given opportunity. The mere idea of a silent Richie was next to impossible, but now it’s more than an idea. It’s a reality.

            But the losers would have been concerned, too, perhaps even unnerved by his lack of talking. They would have asked him if he was okay, offered comfort in the best way they could. Stan would talk to him, tell him about his day, his life, whatever he could think of so long as he didn’t stop talking, and eventually Richie would start talking, too. Ben would bring him something distracting (or, rather, send him something distracting, since he moved away), like a book or a puzzle or something to occupy his hands and distract his mind. Mike would bring comfort food, snacks and treats, but he’d bring healthy stuff, too, because he knew that Richie never took care of himself when he was upset. Beverly would listen to music with him, whether it be in person or over the phone, depending on if she was visiting Derry or not, and she’d let him choose the songs they listened to so that she could understand what mood he was in – if he was mad, sad, or something else. Bill would read Richie some of his stories, his voice a little fuzzy from the long distance call, and he’d only hang up once Richie fell asleep on the other line.

            Eddie would just sit with him, a silent presence. Usually, it’d start with them being a few feet away from each other, Richie stiff and silent, Eddie waiting patiently, but then Richie would scoot over, close the distance, and lay his head on Eddie’s shoulder. Sometimes, he would tell Eddie what was wrong. Sometimes, he would cry. Most of the time, he wouldn’t do anything at all, just sit there, seeking comfort from Eddie’s tough, until his tension was gone and he could smile again.

            Richie knows the losers hated it when he was quiet, no matter how many times they jokingly complained about him being too loud. He knows they would hate seeing him like this, not taking care of himself, risking his health and never murmuring a word. He doesn’t want to become something that they wouldn’t want to see.

            He doesn’t want to be someone they wouldn’t want around.

            So, with his gaze dancing along the stars that shine bright above him, he opens his mouth, and in a croaky, unused voice that’s not at all pleasant to hear and almost painful to use, he begins to sing.

 

            I love you, baby

            And if it’s quite alright

            I need you, baby

            To warm the lonely nights

            I love you, baby

            Trust in me when I say

            Oh, pretty baby

            Don’t bring me down, I pray

            Oh, pretty baby

            Now that I’ve found you, stay

            And let me love you, baby

            Let me love you

            You’re just too good to be true

            Can’t take my eyes off you…

 

 

 

 

[June, 2012]

 

            If things had been different, Richie thinks he would have moved to California.

            He isn’t sure what he would have done here, but there’s just something about the air – it’s sweet, almost, comfortable and warm. It never gets as humid as Derry does, and the sun is addicting to sit under, to stretch out and soak in. He’s made his way back to California plenty of times over the years, and out of every city he’s driven through in his search for other life, Los Angeles is his favorite.

            It’s just as eerie as the others, abandoned buildings and vacant parking lots full of empty cars with the keys still in the ignitions, but it’s nice, too. Richie can picture it if it weren’t empty, can imagine the sidewalks bustling with people, restaurant filled with chatter and laughter and all good things. He wanders the streets a lot when he’s here, hands in his pockets and eyes flittering around. Sometimes he’ll spot buildings and houses that have crumbled from being worn down by years of harsh weather and no one to keep them intact, and he wishes things hadn’t turned out like this. He wishes he could have seen L.A. when it was alive and thriving. He wishes a lot of things.

            Today, he does not wander the streets and look around, nor does he climb up to the Hollywood sign just to see it up close, as he’s been wanting to do for a few years now. Instead, he finds his way to the beach, and he sits down, and he enjoys the sun.

            The sand is warm beneath him, pleasant to bury his hands into and burrow his toes under. In front of him, the ocean glimmers, gentle waves lapping at the shore. He considers going for a swim to cool off in this mid-summer heat, but he opts against it for now. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe the day after that. Maybe not at all. He has no preference, not really. If he feels up to it later, he will. If he doesn’t, he won’t.

            Beverly would have made him swim.

            At least, he thinks she would. It’s hard to guess what Beverly would be like at this age, but he’s sure she would still be the first to wade into the water and tease the others for being pussies until they followed in after her. That’s something she was always good at, bringing them out of their comfort zones just enough to confront their anxieties and have fun even though they had originally been wary. Even at thirty-six, Richie knows she would be exactly the same, at least on that front. She’d probably be much different in a lot of other ways. Everyone would be.

            Everyone would have families by now, Richie realizes suddenly. They wouldn’t just be losers, they’d be parents, husbands, a wife. They’d be home owners. They’d have their lives together. They’d be happy members of a happy family.

            Richie always wanted to be a dad. He always thought he’d be good at it, too – especially if the other parent was Eddie, which he likes to believe it would have been. He likes to think that, had things been different, he would have kissed Eddie on his eighteenth birthday, would have confessed his feelings, been true to himself and open to Eddie, and Eddie would have felt the same. Together, they would have moved out of Derry, gone to college (preferably the same one, but they would have been able to get through being separated, would have loved each other far too much to let something as silly as distance break them up), graduated, gotten a house, started a family, spent their entire lives side by side, with the losers and all the losers kids surrounding them. Eddie would have been the more relaxed parent, Richie knows – not intentionally, per say, but he’d be so scared of becoming overbearing, like his mother had been, that he would end up being too relaxed in regard to his children. In comparison, Richie would have been the helicopter parent, spurred on by the need to make sure he never accidentally made his kids feel as abandoned and unloved as he had felt when his own parents accidentally neglected to take care of him. Eventually, though, the two would have found a nice balancing point between being a pushover and being a hard ass, and they would have loved their kids more than words could ever begin to explain. Not to mention that, adopted or not, any kid of Richie and Eddie’s would end up being a hilarious mix of caring, witty, and sarcastic. Pure bundles of joy.

            Beverly and Ben would have been incredible parents, too. At the age of seventeen, the two of them were still edging around their feelings for each other out of fear of offending Bill, who had spent quite some time getting over Beverly after their relationship ended upon Bill’s move to London, but neither of them seemed to notice that Bill was rooting for them, too. Sure, he was upset over the breakup, but they hadn’t dated long, and they were in their early teens when they did date. After a few months, Bill understood that they were much better as friends, and he could see how incredible Ben and Bev were for each other. There were many times when Bill would call Richie and asks for updates on those two, only to be severely disappointed when he heard there weren’t any, but Richie knows they would have gotten together eventually. He isn’t sure if it would have happened in college or after, but it would have happened no matter what, and the two of them would have ended up with an amazing family – a kid or two, Richie thinks, with Ben’s kindness and Bev’s snark.

            Speaking of Bill, he would have found a wonderful wife (or husband, if that’s how things went, but Richie has a feeling he’d end up with a lovely woman) that fit right into their group. She’d balance out his seriousness and his immaturity, but she’d also make him softer and assure him that, appointed leader of the losers or not, showing vulnerability is not something to be ashamed of. Not that Bill was ever against being vulnerable – he often encouraged the others to show their vulnerability, to take pride in it, but he could never follow his own advice. However, his wife, whoever she would have been, would help him with that, in a way the losers never could, and the two of them would pass that onto their kid. Just one, Richie thinks. Bill would be a great dad, but Richie knows he was afraid of one of his kids suffering the loss of a sibling like he did, and therefore only wished for a single child that would have plenty of cousins to play with, thanks to the other losers. Richie understands, in a way, but he also doesn’t, because he’s always wanted many children, as many as him and Eddie could have possibly handled.

            Stan… is a little bit harder to pinpoint, simply because Richie isn’t positive about who Stan would have ended up with. Before moving, he had shown a lot of interest in Mike, but that interest seemed to come to a stop, leaving Richie under the impression that he had either moved on or given up on the feelings being reciprocated due to distance. Richie knows Mike felt the same about Stan, though – while Mike and Stan would talk on the phone once or twice a week, Stan would call Richie every day, and Mike always asked Richie about how Stan was doing. He seemed particularly intrigued by any mention of Stan’s potential love life, but Stan didn’t have a love life, which was something else that always caught Richie’s attention. Despite apparently moving on/giving up on Mike, Stan never showed interest in anyone else. So, while Stan could have very well ended up falling for someone else, marrying and starting a family with them, he also could have also very well been with Mike, too. Which is where the struggle comes in, because if Stan had kids with a stranger, Richie can only pin down subtle things about how those kids would have turned out – quick-witted, like Stan, and incredibly smart, but a majority of their other traits are impossible to speculate about. If Stan had kids with Mike, however, Richie knows that those children would have been the kindest kids to ever exist. They’d be patient and open-minded, much like Mike, but they’d also be fast thinkers and little geniuses, like Stan.

            As for Mike, Richie can’t see him starting a family with anyone but Stan. Marrying someone, falling in love, sure, but Richie doesn’t think he’d have any kids unless he had kids with Stan.

            On this beach, the losers and their children would have had a blast.

            Richie thinks he would’ve sat right here, just like this, and would have appreciated it for a little while, watching as Ben and Beverly bring their youngest into the water while their older kid builds sand castles with Richie and Eddie’s. He thinks that they’d have two kids at this point, an older one, maybe six or seven, and a younger one, no more than a year old. It’s kind of stifling, how easy it is to picture that, actually. He feels like, if he were to look to his right, he’d see Eddie, in all his thirty-six year old glory, holding up their youngest and cooing gently. For a moment, he almost does look over, but he stops himself, knowing that he’d only be disappointed by the empty space.

            The constant empty space, a space where no one is ever there.

            He doesn’t think he’s ever going to see his friends again.

            That had been his string of hope all these years, the thing that kept him on his feet no matter how much he wanted to sit down and never get back up. No matter how hopeless he felt, he would tell himself that there’s still a chance, that maybe, somehow, things will change and he’ll return to the life he never got the chance to live, the life he deserved to have. Now, however, he doesn’t tell himself that, can’t get the words out. They taste like a lie, false hope, sour and bitter and wrong. They taste like acid and heat and pain and anguish and all bad things.

            They taste like that because they aren’t true. He can’t say he’ll see them again because he doesn’t believe it anymore. He thinks he’s stuck here, alone, until the day he dies. But he’ll wait it out some more, just in case – he doesn’t want to miss the opportunity to see them again, no matter how small a chance that may be. But without the ability to maintain hope, he doesn’t think he’ll hold on for too much longer.

            Leaning back on his hands, fingers buried beneath the soft sand, he tips his head back, lets the sun warm his skin, and sighs.

 

 

 

 

[October, 2016]

 

            Despite the dust and the faded color from the years gone by, Eddie’s room looks exactly the same as the day Richie left. Some of the pictures have fallen from the wall, the tacks that had been pinning them up coming loose over time, the window pane is more yellow than white, the paint on the walls peeling, and some of the posters on the walls have fallen, too, like the pictures. But, overall, it almost feels like he’s seventeen again.

            Standing in the doorway, Richie closes his eyes, and he pictures the nights he slept in this room, climbing through the window and giggling quietly underneath the duvet, where him and Eddie would whisper to each other to keep from Sonia hearing them, not wanting her to know that Richie was there. He remembers helping Eddie hang up these posters, standing on a chair and following Eddie’s instructions to move it up, down, left or right. He remembers a lot of things about this place, about Eddie.

            He opens his eyes, blinks slowly, and steps further into the room. One of his hands drifts away, fingertips grazing against the wall lightly as he walks past, feeling every bump in the decaying paint. Each and every detail feels bright and out of focus, like his brain is reeling with seeing something so achingly familiar after so long. Twenty-three years is a big gap between visits. After that long, Derry itself had begun to feel like a far away dream land, a figment of his imagination. Something that never really existed in the first place.

            But he’s back now. It feels odd. It feels very, very odd.

            The plan hadn’t been to come to Eddie’s place. He had one scheduled stop on his way into town, and then he was supposed to go back home, to his own house, but when he saw this street, he couldn’t resist. Without even meaning to, he had taken that turn, pulled into the driveway, and made his way inside.

            Being in here, he… he feels guilty. He feels like he doesn’t belong within these walls, like he isn’t worthy, not as the person he is now. Maybe when he was younger, sure, but not anymore. Not as this guy, hopeless and tired. Someone who hasn’t spoken in months, maybe even a year now, just because he has no one to talk to. Someone who doesn’t take care of himself, who hasn’t bothered keeping up with his hygiene in the slightest, hasn’t even sought out a shower in weeks. It’s not like there’s anyone to see him like this, anyone to impress. There’s just no point to it anymore.

            It’s different in here though. It feels like there are eyes on him – eyes from the past, remnants of Eddie in here, and he can almost hear Eddie’s voice in his head, telling him to take care of himself, to get in the shower and brush his teeth. He can almost picture it, too, can almost see Eddie’s glare, both concerned and disapproving, can envision the shake of his head as he takes out a pair of scissors and instructs Richie to sit down so that he can cut his hair.

            But the Eddie he’s imagining, that’s not real. That’s an Eddie of eighteen-years-old. If Eddie were here today, he’d be fourty. Richie wonders what fourty-year-old Eddie would do if he found him like this.

            Fourty-year-old Eddie isn’t real either, though. There’s no Eddie anymore. There’s only Richie, alone, forever. And that is exactly why Richie is back in Derry.

            With one more sweep over the room, his features somewhat strained, his exhausted eyes teary behind his old glasses that are barely hanging on after all this time, he turns around and he walks back into the hallway. With each and every step he takes, the feeling of eyes on him lessens. By the time he reaches his car, the feeling is gone completely, and it is with a sense of ease that he finishes the drive back to his childhood home.

 

 

 

 

            He can’t tell what is more strange: sitting in the bedroom he grew up in, or knowing what it is he is about to do within these very walls.

            Much like with Eddie’s, Richie’s room looks almost exactly the same as it did when he left Derry, with the exception of some shifts in time, a collection of dust and some things that came loose and fell down, as well as some cracks and damage caused by weather and uncontrollable circumstances – plus, of course, the items sprawled out on the floor in front of him; the polaroid, the journal, the poetry book, the necklace, and the sketch book, as well as a red and black flannel that he had found a few months back. It isn’t Bill’s, sure, but it makes Richie think of Bill, and that’s good enough.

            His bed feels a lot older, not as nice and comfortable as he remembers it being, but his sheets and blankets are the same, kind of soft and fluffy, pleasant to sit on. Absentmindedly, he runs his hands over them, feels the smooth material beneath his palms, and he considers postponing his plans just to get a night’s rest in this very bed, just for old time’s sake, but he’s tired of postponing, tired of pushing it back, of waiting. He’s done hanging onto a thread of hope that things will change. They won’t.

            Still, though, he soaks in the moment, lets it wash over him, both the strange and the pleasant. He breathes in deep, exhales slow, and smiles. Steady hands withdraw from the blankets and return to his lap, where the object of his choosing awaits, the metal cool to the touch, almost soothing. It hadn’t taken long to find it, only ten minutes or so of searching through the local police station, and it’s not the most pleasant way to go, he knows, but it’s arguably the quickest, and that’s exactly what he’s hoping for here. Something fast, something he won’t get the chance to feel before he’s gone. Not exactly painless, really, but something that will end it all before the pain registers.

            The gun is simple, he realizes, the basic kind an officer usually carries. It’s not exactly light, but it isn’t heavy, either, a comfortable weight in the palms of his hands as he holds it a little higher. There’s no need for this kind of examination, but he supposes there’s nothing wrong with killing a little bit of time before killing himself.

            A grimace forms on his lips at that thought. He doesn’t like the wording. That’s what this is, he knows, but it feels much more complex than that. He isn’t just killing himself – he’s finally putting himself to rest, ending the day to day torment that he’s endured for twenty-three years now. He’s letting go of the false hope that things will change. He’s giving up, or giving in, depending on how one would choose to look at it. To put it more simply, though, he’s done. He’s exhausted.

            He’s not living another day like this, so he’s not living another day at all. It’s just that simple.

            It’s quite the accomplishment, though, he thinks. He made it over two decades with no one but himself. Two decades and two years, all alone. If he were to ask his seventeen-year-old self how long he thought he could survive without anyone else around, younger Richie would have laughed and said, “Five minutes, maybe.”

            If anything, he’s quite proud of himself for making it this long. He doesn’t think very many people could have kept it together as long as he did. Part of him wishes he would try to wait a little bit longer, but he just… he can’t. He can’t do it. Not anymore.

            With that thought, he tentatively curls his fingers around the holster of the gun, taking it into one hand gingerly, the other hand raising to scratch idly at his scruff of a beard that he hasn’t bothered taming in nearly two months. The moment feels strangely nice, much different than how he expected it would – there’s no heaviness, no dread, no fear. Only acceptance and peace.

            He turns the gun, angles it up, presses it to the underside of his chin. It tickles slightly, and he kind of smiles, but it isn’t a full smile. He wonders, briefly, if there is an afterlife, and if everyone else will be there. The idea that they all died when they seemingly vanished has never been a pleasant one, but it’s got a nice ring to it now, the thought of reuniting with everyone he loves in a land beyond this, where he can spend eternity with them and never feel lonely again. Now he smiles fully, almost excitedly, and raises a finger, brushes it against the trigger—

            And then, echoing throughout the silence of the house, the phone begins to ring.